A senior Iranian military commander has said that he expects the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) to fight in support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad after Mosul has been retaken from Daesh.
Brigadier Mohamed Ali Jafari of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said in a press statement that countries representing the Islamic world needed to support one another, adding that "the Hashd Al-Sha'abi will be sent to Syria in this context," using the Arabic name for the PMF militias.
The senior IRGC commander denied that Iranian forces were involved in the battle to retake Mosul from Daesh, Iraq's second largest city that has been held by the extremist organisation since June 2014.
According to Jafari, the PMF, sanctioned by the Iraqi government but largely seen as subservient to Iran, is more than capable of fighting on its own but that "there may be a limited number of [Iranian military] advisers" on the ground to assist the paramilitary force.
A spokesman for the PMF said earlier this month that his organisation would march on Syria after Mosul was recaptured, and that it would fight wherever it was required.
Ahmed Al-Assadi, the PMF's spokesman, was also quoted last month as saying that the Iran-backed unit had as its objective the "securing of Iraq's border with Syria and to cut off [Daesh's] reinforcements coming from Syria."
According to Al-Assadi, the PMF's entry into Syria will be coordinated between Baghdad and Damascus.
Iran's Shia Liberation Army
Jafari's remarks will likely be taken as reaffirming Iranian control over military units that are a formal part of the Iraqi armed forces. Earlier this year, and by order of Iraq's Shia Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, the PMF were formally recognised as an official part of the Iraqi military.
However, the PMF's loyalty to Iraq has been repeatedly questioned by analysts, with many alleging that it is merely an Iranian proxy that serves Tehran's interests in the region.
Some of the PMF's commanders include Shia figures with strong ties to Iran such as Hadi Al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organisation, Qais Al-Khaz'ali of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis who leads the Iraqi Hezbollah.
Last August, retired Iranian General Mohammad Ali Falaki told the Mashregh news agency, which has close ties to the IRGC, that a "Shia Liberation Army" had been formed, that was comprised primarily of non-Iranian Shias fighting in the Arab world.
According to Falaki, its new army, the Iranian equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, was already active on three fronts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and would be commanded by Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's notorious Quds Force.
The Quds Force and the IRGC have been sanctioned by the United States for actions deemed to be in support of international terrorism.